For quite some time I have to admit that I looked down on the Benchmark Bourbon line and as such deemed them pretty low on my list of things to try. Although some may liken that vantage point to their own presently, I have matured in my love of brownwater and in that spirit now find a lot of joy in trying new bourbons. I had also been given a snort of the Full Proof one evening by a relative and was surprised at how much I liked it. Given the breadth of offerings within the Benchmark lineup, (which just so happens to pair exactly with the Bourboneur Tasting Sheet which has room for notes on six bourbons) the opportunity to do a Benchmark flight seemed fortuitous, and yes, it was a Tuesday but that's not important. I like to say that my garage bar is open only on days that end in "y."
If you pick up any bottle of Benchmark Bourbon, you'll see the name "McAfee's" emblazoned on the bottle's label. In 1773 three brothers (George, James and Robert McAfee) left their Virginia home to explore what would become present day Kentucky. As it's told, these brothers surveyed the land that is now home to the Buffalo Trace Distillery. The brand takes its name from surveyor marks otherwise known as benchmarks and the bourbon honors the pioneering spirit of the three McAfee brothers who helped explore the frontiers of early America.
McAfee's Benchmark is produced by the Sazerac Company at its Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.
I'll have to admit that as I sat down in my garage bar speakeasy with the entire lineup of Benchmark Bourbons (which are dirt cheap by the way), I couldn't help but in a total dad joke sort of way smirk as I thought...I'm benchmarking benchmark. I won't walk through my tasting notes in detail as I'm frankly a believer that we all bring to bear a library of experiences that shape our palates, and I may smell caramel and Bob may smell stone-fruit. But I'll talk through some of the nuances of the bottles and let you all have the experience for yourself and see how they stack up.
It should come as little surprise that Benchmark's entry-level bottle in the entry-level line is the bottom of the Bourboneur list. I found this bourbon to have a heavy corn type sweetness on the nose that was a bit off-putting and a palate that was light, and as my notes suggest "just boring." A great "rail bourbon" but not one that I will be doing much with besides pouring away as a mixer in whatever the next bourbon cocktail is that's featured during a future garage bar event.
Next in the lineup is the Bonded botting which had some mixed reviews from my garage bar crowd, and I frankly question the integrity of the taste buds of my compatriots who joined in the "Tuesday Tasting" and rated this one a bit higher than others. That said, the Bonded bottling was also pretty corn heavy and really left with a one-two-punch type party in the back of your mouth that was neither expected nor pleasant as the front end of the sip was relatively non-existent on taste and overall presence.
Middle of the pack, the single barrel bottling was neither great nor terrible. I found it difficult to have much to really say about this particular bottle, it was just an "average bourbon." On a scale of 30 where aroma, taste and finish all score 10 points apiece as a maximum, the single barrel bottle was straight down the middle at 15...."just your average bourbon."
Moving up a notch, the small batch bottle had a noticeably different nose that moved away from a corn-type sweetness to a more vanilla-type aroma. It had a lot more going on and was a much more approachable dram.
Similar to the small batch, the top floor bottle really had one of the best noses of any of the bourbons in the lineup hands down. On the downside, the finish on this particular bourbon frankly was terrible...it just fell off a cliff without any warning and disappeared to never be seen from again. Great nose, generally quite tasty, awful closing. I'm still disappointed thinking about this a week later.
At the very top of the lineup is the full proof bottling, which was the first Benchmark I had tried which was the whole reason precipitating my desire to work through the lineup as it had a little somethin' somethin' that piqued my interest. Unfortunately, I tried the BEST bottle straight out of the gate, but it certainly has a much richer and fuller nose and body than the others in the line. It handily beats out the other bottles in this tranche so if you're going to buy one, I'd start here.
The best way to enjoy Benchmark Bourbon is to follow my lead and pour it in the company of some good friends. Whether it's a Tuesday in your garage bar or in celebration of a friend's birthday, just make sure you have the right glass...it makes all the difference in the world! If you enjoyed this, post become a Bourboneur and join the conversation on Instagram, Facebook, and yes, evenTikTok. Cheers!
Bourboneur Glencairn Glass